Times-Mirror Co. of Los Angeles yesterday announced plans to sell the Dallas Times Herald for $110 million in cash and notes to a company headed by William Dean Singleton, a 34-year-old native Texan who publishes 21 smaller dailies in six states.
The transaction brought praise for Times-Mirror from newspaper analysts who saw it as an effort by the company to shed a property that has reportedly lost money the last two quarters.
The $110 million price -- part of which will be financed by Times-Mirror -- was considered low compared with recent newspaper transactions of similar size. Gannett Inc. of Roslyn has agreed to pay at least $305 million for the Louisville Courier-Journal and Times and paid about $200 million for The Des Moines Register.
The sale is the latest in a recent series of deals by Times-Mirror, which last month agreed to pay $600 million for the Baltimore Sun papers and two television stations. The company also purchased the Washington-based National Journal and agreed to sell a newsprint plant for $150 million, cable television operations for an undisclosed price and a microwave communications company for $175 million.
For Singleton's company, the sale brings a large, respected paper to a growing group of mostly small daily and weekly newspapers.
"It will be the crown jewel," said Singleton. "Being local, having grown up in Texas, we'll know a little bit better how to compete," he said. "Times-Mirror was not local, and it has been a disadvantage for them."
Singleton was right-hand man to Texan Joe L. Allbritton, when he owned the now defunct Washington Star. He joined Allbritton Communications Co. in 1976 at age 25 and became president of its newspaper division in 1978.
The sale comes as The Dallas Morning News appears to have moved into a dominant position with a daily circulation of 390,275 and Sunday circulation of 521,727. The Times Herald circulation is 244,629 daily and 348,084 on Sunday.
Several of those familiar with the Dallas market said that Singleton, as president of his new paper, would intensify a competition that the Times Herald seemed to be losing, especially as Texas has fallen into hard times because of the low price of oil.
Says one former newspaper executive who has dealt with Singleton: "Ironically, if anybody can save the Times Herald, it's Dean Singleton. He's got a little J. R. in him."
Richard B. Scudder, 73, a fourth-generation newspaper publisher who pioneered the recycling of old newspapers into new newsprint, and John Buzzetta, 35, publisher of The Star-Beacon in Ashtabula, Ohio, are partners in the company that will own the Times Herald.
As several newspaper analysts and executives said, the Dallas sale and Baltimore purchase mean that Times-Mirror adds a paper with a virtual local monopoly and sells a paper in a tough and expensive competitive fight. The day before Times-Mirror agreed to buy the Baltimore papers, their competition -- the Baltimore News-American owned by Hearst -- announced it was going out of business.
"Every time Times-Mirror went before the financial community, Dallas was a thorn that they would have to explain," said John Morton, media analyst for Lynch, Jones & Ryan. "So this is going to make their life a lot easier. . . . " Times-Mirror purchased the Times Herald in 1970, offering stock that was worth the equivalent of about $91 million when the deal was announced.
Times-Mirror acquired radio and television stations as part of the original purchase. It sold the radio station soon after the purchase but is retaining the television station, CBS affiliate KDFW-TV.
Morton and others familiar with Singleton's news operations said that his style in the past has been to cut staff and costs drastically, while concentrating almost exclusively on local news.
Asked if he planned to "cut the paper to the bone," as Morton described it, Singleton said: "No, we're not. . . . . The Times Herald is not one of those situations where drastic moves need to be made."
Singleton, whose companies own 21 daily and 15 weekly newspapers, says he is a college dropout who tried to get a job with the Times Herald in 1970. Told he was too inexperienced at age 18, he moved to the Morning News where he became a copy reader. "I finally found that to get a job at the Times Herald, I had to buy it," he said.
C. Shelby Coffey III, who was named editor of the paper in January, said the new owners had asked him to stay on. "I'm pleased and honored, but having just found out about this shift a day ago, I'll have to talk to my family," Coffey said. He was a former deputy managing editor of The Washington Post before he became editor of U.S. News & World Report a little more than a year ago.